Russ learning golf

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Chandler Russ practices her swing at the Duncan Park driving range during the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy Monday morning.

NATCHEZ — Cathedral School’s Chandler Russ brings a smooth, natural swing with her each time she steps on to a golf course, but that is not all it takes to be a successful golfer. A couple of years ago she committed herself to becoming a better player and with the help of several accomplished local players she is making strides to reaching her goal.

Russ, 14, is participating in this year’s Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy at Duncan Park, where she is getting help from former professional golfer John McGough and 11-time city champion Pete Powell. Russ also gets coaching at home from her father and Cathedral golf coach, Kurt Russ.

“Golf runs in our family,” Chandler said. “My grandfather, my uncles and my dad all played. I’ve been involved since I was little and playing with those plastic clubs.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Instructor Pete Powell gives Russ a few pointers.

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“In seventh grade I started playing for real and got fitted for clubs and I played on the golf team. I started getting better and it got easier and easier. It takes a lot of practice but Pete (Powell) and dad are helping me.”

Chandler’s instructors say they see potential in her game.

“She’s an athlete,” Powell said. “She could definitely, by her senior year, be shooting in the 70s.”

Many really good athletes have trouble picking up the intricacies of golf, Powell said.

“But once they get the concept they can play better than people that don’t have the athletic ability.”

Duncan Park golf course superintendent Greg Brooking also sees great potential in Chandler, he said.

“Of all the people out here, she has as much natural ability as I’ve seen. She could be the premier girl golfer in the city if she practices at it,” Brooking said.

Brooking said getting help from players like Powell and McGough is a great benefit for young players like Chandler.

“It’s extremely important to get professional help from John and Pete,” Brooking said.

“Chandler has the opportunity to work with golfers that have proven their talent and can show her how to play.”

Chandler said the camp is providing her the opportunity to get better as a player.

“The camp has been very helpful, and I’ve made a lot of progress. I owe a lot to them,” she said.

Chandler’s father is a good golfer in his own right, but he said he can’t teach her all the mechanics of a perfect swing.

“We talked and I told her, ‘I’d do what I have to do to get you where you need to be equipment wise, and put you in front of people that can teach you,’” Kurt said.

Kurt said Chandler and teammate Rachel Benoit are the only two players on the girls’ golf team. They did participate in their first district tournament this year, he said.

Chandler said she was proud of making it to district as an eighth grader, she said.

“It was our first time to make it to district and we are only (going into) ninth and 10th grade,” she said. “We are not anywhere near being really good golfers, but, we will be soon. I hope we make a lot of progress and can make it to state.”

Chandler said her main strength as a golfer is her ability to drive the ball. She is also getting pretty good at putting, she said.

She plans to continue to work with Powell in the spring and wants to work on relaxing.

“I definitely (want to work on) loosening up a little. I have so much tension because I just want to hit the ball so good,” she said. “I have to realize that it just takes a loose shot to get it where it needs to go. I need to work on a lot of things because the whole game is new to me.”

Chandler said she enjoys the pressure-packed atmosphere that golf provides.

“There’s a lot of pressure but it’s also energetic,” she said. “Right before I go play a tournament I’d have anxiety and get nervous, but it was really fun after I finished and I knew I had played good and left it all out there.”

Chandler also is a member of the Cathedral track team and plays city league softball, she said.